As part of our wellness collaboration with Girls Write Now, we asked 3 young writers from their mentorship program to share a piece of work they created about personal loss. Through poems and short stories, these mentees have recorded the bitter, confusing, resilient, and tender parts of their grief. In this mini series, Emma Kushnirsky, Ifeoma Okwuka, and Olivia Kim talk about how their cultural backgrounds have influenced their experiences of loss, and how they’ve used writing to reach new places of understanding.
Q: Is the act of writing a part of your mental health practice, or your process of grief? How does this piece of writing fit into that?
A: Writing is extremely important to my mental health and grieving process. Often I don’t know what I think or feel until I write it out, and knowing and verbalizing can also be an important part of breaking negative thought patterns. There’s much more to it than that, but I’m not sure I can explain. This piece, “Her House Becomes Relic,” was one I felt like I had to write for myself. I was home for the summer from my first year of college, and something about not having been to my grandparent’s house for six months or so led to the most surreal day there, especially because I brought my partner there for the first time. I sobbed for my grandma and for my family for the first time in a long time. Writing about it was a release, to sum up a moment in a sentence, to locate the words, to understand why I acted (and act) the way I act. On the other side of this piece, even though it only took me a few hours to write, I have a deeper understanding of how I fit into my family. And how death and loss can make us grieve what we lost long ago, little by little, all at once.
-Emma Kushnirsky, 19, Bronx, NY
Read Emma’s story, Her House Becomes Relic.
A: Writing in general has always provided me with the space to process complex thoughts and feelings. Grief is a complicated thing and a part of me was naturally drawn to its complexity, especially as a writer. The stories I’ve written in recent years all have elements of loss woven into them. This was not something I did knowingly. I think a part of me, being drawn to grief’s complexity, was also determined to demystify it through my writing.
“I Like the Look of Freedom on You,” was my attempt at confronting the mortality of all things, but I think it did more than just that. As much as it is a story about loss, specifically the fear of loss, it’s also a story about love and how love persists even beyond death.
Grief is one of those topics that people tend to tiptoe around because of its sensitivity. By writing about it, I hope to convince others that it’s less of a taboo subject and more of a universal part of the human experience.
-Ifeoma Okwuka, 18, Bronx, NY
Read Ifeoma’s story, I Like The Look of Freedom On You.
A: The act of writing is more a part of my mental health practice. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and feelings, which can be difficult to do during day-to-day life. Most of the time, I write alone, and am able to be as open and vulnerable as possible. I don’t write a journal, but rather express my feelings through my characters and poems that I write. Most of the time, I don’t realize that I’m expressing my mindset until I read my work later, and realize what influenced a certain piece of work. That happened with this piece of writing. “My Grandmother” was a completely unplanned poem that I wrote late at night. I hadn’t realized that I had been bottling up my feelings until I wrote down everything in a single poem, read it over, and started crying after realizing how personal it was.
-Olivia Kim, 15, Queens, NY
Read Olivia’s poem, My Grandmother